The Cathedral of Avila1 is a fortress-cathedral, built into the walls of Avila and with the apse as one of the towers in the walls. Together with the Cathedral of Cuenca it is one of the two earliest Gothic cathedrals in Spain, earlier than the beautiful buildings in Burgos and Leon. It is also a stunning building – a visit leaves you needing to sit down quietly and just think about what you have seen.
A brief history
Today’s Cathedral of the Saviour dates from the 11th century and it stands on the site of an earlier, Romanesque church started by Maestro Fruchel. Building work in the cathedral continued until the 17th century.2 The need for a cathedral came under Alfonso VI after the area had been retaken from the Moors and had to be repopulated. After Mastro Fruchel’s death the style of the building changed to the Gothic.
The curious figures on either side of the main door look curiously like Green Men…
Inside the cathedral
As you walk in this is what you see….
The walls of the cathedral, 13th century, soar upwards in the dim light and the drama of the centrally placed choir lies ahead. In the Spanish Renaissance the Choir was positioned in the body of the church. It was too dark to photograph the stalls but the carvings around the outside, from the 16th century, are stunning.
The High Altar was the work of several artists from the end of the 15th century to the mid-16th century including Pedro Berruguete who was born in Castile but travelled and trained in Italy, and Vasco de la Zarza, a Spanish sculptor who worked mainly in the Cathedral of Avila. The interior of the cathedral is very dark but the alter was lit up and glowed in the darkness.
Ambulatory or Girola
The Ambulatory is the oldest part of the cathedral and the curve of its walls is built into the town walls. Columns divide the space. Maestro Fruchel started the Romanesque Church here in the 12th century. The curious ‘speckling’ of the walls is not painting, but sandstone stained with ferrous oxide and apparently known as ‘bleeding sandstone’.
The tomb of Bishop Don Hernando (d.1292) is embedded in the wall of the apse, facing the ambulatory.
Views in the Cathedral
The Cloisters date from between the 14th and 16th centuries and are closed off with glass and netting.
I can’t do justice to the Cathedral of Avila with only one visit. You have to return and just sit quietly and absorb the atmosphere on many occasions. And neither can I capture the details in an hour or two. It is an extraordinary building. So instead we headed for the Plaza Mercado Chica…